Use Clothespins to Explain Chronic Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • Do you have trouble explaining to others what it’s like to live with chronic pain? I think most of us have run into this problem. Even the most caring people who genuinely try to be sympathetic can’t really understand if they’ve never experienced it. But finding a way to explain chronic pain can be nearly impossible…until now.

    The key to creating awareness and understanding of chronic pain may literally be at your fingertips. The National Fibromyalgia Association has come up with a fundraising idea that serves the dual purpose of giving people a small taste of what it’s like to live in chronic pain. They call it The NFA Clothespin Challenge. Here’s how it works:
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    • If someone in your life doesn’t understand your pain, invite them to take the Clothespin Challenge.
    • Have them place a clothespin on one of their fingers and set a timer for 30 minutes. (Note: Be sure to use a traditional wooden clothespin with the spring closure mechanism.)
    • Their challenge is to leave the clothespin on for as long as they can stand the pain.
    • When they take the clothespin off, ask them to imagine that the pain they just experienced went on forever. Explain that this is what it’s like for you to live in chronic pain – only you can’t remove the pain like they could remove the clothespin.
    I tried this on several people before recommending it to you and it was quite effective. The longest anyone was able to stand the pain was about 10 minutes. Most didn’t last more than one or two minutes.

    As part of the fundraising aspect, the NFA recommends asking those taking the Clothespin Challenge to pledge to donate "x" number of dollars to the NFA for every minute under 30 minutes they are not able to keep the clothespin on. (For example: If they pledge a dollar a minute and take the clothespin off after 10 minutes, they would donate $20.) Since the people I used as guinea pigs were helping me out, I didn’t ask them to pledge money. I suspect those who know it’s going to cost them might be “inspired” to hold out a little longer.

    If you try the clothespin challenge, please let us know what happened by commenting here, doing a SharePost, or posting to the forum. Whether or not you choose to include the pledge aspect of the challenge, if you try it and it does help your family and friends understand your pain a little better, consider sending the NFA a donation as a thank you for the idea.

    Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I did co-found the NFA, however, I am not currently active in its operation. I do know it to be a very good nonprofit that has done a great deal to help the fibromyalgia community.

Published On: December 10, 2007